'A magnificent display of clinical finishing': Matt Scrafton's verdict on Blackpool's emphatic win at Bradford City
Shirley Bassey famously claimed Diamonds Are Forever in her 1971 James Bond soundtrack, but thankfully that’s no longer the case for Blackpool.
Terry McPhillips finally ditched the system after persisting with it for six out of the last seven games, a spell that yielded just six points.
The justification behind first using the formation was correct, in that it matched up Charlton Athletic’s own diamond when Blackpool kept a clean sheet and earned a point at The Valley last month.
I’ve no issue with changing things up when the time is right, be that when you need to address a particular threat from the opposition or you’re playing a side at the top.
But, and I mean no offence to these sides, when you’re playing Oxford United at home, Bristol Rovers away, Southend United at home and so on and so on, you should stick to the system that suits you best and concentrate on what you’re good at, and not worry yourself about the opponent. That system is 4-2-3-1.
That’s the formation Blackpool reverted back to at Valley Parade on Saturday and, while I’m not attributing the result solely to that, it clearly had an affect.
When Pool adopted the diamond it always appeared that McPhillips was shoe-horning players into the system, but the 4-2-3-1 suits his squad of players down to a tee.
Pool look far more balanced when they use it and there’s genuine width with Liam Feeney and Nathan Delfouneso operating with bags of pace and trickery down either touchline.
Skipper Jay Spearing said pre-match the Seasiders had gone back to basics to turn around their mini dip in form, and by that one can only assume he meant reverting back to the formation that had previously proved so effective.
Change it for one game by all means, as McPhillips did for Charlton, but in the longer term you don’t need to fix something that isn’t broken.
As it was, McPhillips made the change and he soon got the rewards, Blackpool producing a magnificent display of clinical finishing to put bottom-of-the-table Bradford to the sword. The performance was chalk and cheese to the miserable humbling at Burton Albion the previous week.
The Seasiders were solid in defence, led by the brave and inspirational Ben Heneghan, and were unfortunate not to claim their 17th clean sheet of the campaign.
Going forward, Pool were devastating on the counter, unleashing wave after wave of surging runs through the middle of the park. While the Bantams’ confidence is clearly shot to pieces, they simply didn’t have an answer in the second half, where Pool ran in a further three goals after Armand Gnanduillet’s header had their noses in front at the break.
That goal, the first of two impressive headers from Gnanduillet, earned the applause of both sets of supporters when he was withdrawn from the action with 10 minutes to go. You know it’s been a good afternoon when that happens.
At the other end of the pitch, stand-in keeper Christoffer Mafoumbi produced an inspired display, and not only because of his sublime penalty save from Eoin Doyle that kept his side two goals ahead at a crucial point in the match.
While Blackpool are clearly a better side when they play the right formation, it also helps when you have your best players fit and available.
The Seasiders are a completely different proposition when Marc Bola is in the side, as the left back was on Saturday for the first time since picking up an injury at Sunderland.
The 21-year-old marauds up and down that left-hand flank and is a constant outlet, which helps Pool get up the pitch time and time again.
Curtis Tilt, also back in the side after a short spell on the sidelines, not only brings a calming influence in the centre of defence, he also helps launch attacks from deep with the way he nonchalantly brings the ball out from the back.
While there were a number of impressive displays, Heneghan has to be the standout performer. He was a colossus and blocked everything that came near him.
The on-loan Sheffield United man has taken his game to a whole other level in recent months having initially struggled at the start of the season through rustiness more than anything else. He’s now one of the first names guaranteed to be on the team sheet.
It all adds up to the perfect away-day performance for Blackpool, which also serves to reignite their play-off charge. Just two points separate Pool and Peterborough United in sixth, with Darren Ferguson’s men one of those sides still to make the trip to Bloomfield Road between now and the end of the season.
It would be remiss of me not to mention former Blackpool boss Gary Bowyer, who showed real class by marching over and applauding the 708 away fans before kick-off. But then again I’d expect nothing less from the man.
He was rightly given a fantastic reception, the fans serenading him with a chant of “there’s only one Gary Bowyer”. That will have meant a lot to him.
But he has a huge job on his hands to keep this Bradford side in the division. While their squad is good on paper, we all know that counts for absolutely nothing. The confidence of his players is clearly at rock bottom and the fans were instantly on their backs whenever something went wrong.
Their frustration is understandable given the perilous position they are in, the Bantams rooted to the bottom of the table, six points adrift of safety with just seven left to play.
Things look far more rosy for Pool. If they stick with the same formation and manage to keep their key players fit, they’ve got every chance of nicking that sixth spot. There’s everything left to play for.